By Dana Ullman MPH
(Excerpted from: The Consumer’s Guide to Homeopathy, Dana Ullman, Tarcher/Putnam, 1996)
Earlier in this century meningitis was fatal 95% of the time in children who contracted it. Now, because of the use of antibiotics, 95% of the children who get it survive. The number of infants dying in the first two years of life has also dramatically declined, once again primarily because of the use of conventional medicines. The significant reduction in the number of children dying from leukemia is another impressive development ofmodern medicine. Despite these benefits of modern medicine, however, there is general agreement that medical care can and should be better. There is also recognition that modern medicine is not always safe and that, in fact, it sometimes does more harm than good.
The Homeopathic Treatment of Teething and Colic
Shakespeare once described infancy as the age of “mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.” Although there are innumerable theories for why infants vomit or have one condition or another, the underlying basis of homeopathic thought is that symptoms are responses of the organism to deal with infections or some type of internally or externally derived stress. Symptoms, then, represent the best efforts of the body to try to defend and heal itself.
Besides the inappropriate treatment of infant fevers and colds, another common, inappropriate treatment that is often administered is for infant’s teething problems. A large group of pediatricians were recently surveyed about what they do for teething infants. Virtually all prescribed medications, usually pain-killers of varying strengths, sedatives, and local anesthetics.
It is certainly understandable that parents want to do something to allay their infants’ pain during the teething stage. Besides the tooth pain and drooling that infants suffer, they also often have fever, bowel problems (usually diarrhea, or constipation alternating with diarrhea), colds, and skin rashes. And it is certainly understandable that physicians who see the pained infants and the frightened and concerned parents would want to do something. However, homeopathy offers such an effective alternative to problems associated with teething that physicians and parents will inevitably look to it.
Chamomilla has probably introduced more parents to homeopathy than any other homeopathic medicine. It is not the only medicine that homeopaths prescribe to treat teething, but it is so commonly used that it is generally recommended unless the infant’s symptoms clearly indicate the need for a different medicine. The most common symptoms of infants who need Chamomilla are inflamed gums, drooling, and a desire to keep fingers in the mouth. Commonly, one cheek is hot and red, while the other is pale. More notable than these physical symptoms are the emotional and behavioral changes. The infants are hyperirritable and may scream and hit. They demand things but reject them as soon as they are given. During sleep they toss and turn and may cry aloud. The only relief they experience comes when they are being carried about or rocked. This description of Chamomilla infants no doubt sounds familiar to many parents.
Other homeopathic medicines given to teething infants are Podophyllum (mayapple), Belladonna (deadly nightshade),Calcarea phosphorica (phosphate of calcium), Calcarea carbonica (calcium carbonate), Coffea (coffee), and Caffeinum (caffeine).
Although some parents may be frightened to give some of these substances to their infant or child, the exceedingly small doses used in homeopathic medicine are known not only to be safe but to be effective in treating many common ailments.
For numerous infant and childhood conditions it may often be more appropriate to treat the parent’s anxiety than the pediatric complaint. The fever-phobia that parents have and the fear that any symptom requires immediate treatment is a common, though “curable,” state of mind. Although there are certainly conditions that require medical attention, the vast majority of infant and childhood symptoms are nothing to worry about. Pediatrician Robert Mendelsohn has noted that 95% of pediatric ailments heal themselves and do not require medical care. One important recommendation for parents who want to try to treat their children is to remember to avoid treatments that suppress symptoms. Treatments that try to counteract the body’s natural defensive tendencies are generally suppressive. One example of a common home treatment for infants’ colic (or sometimes for children’s digestive problems, too) is the use of baking soda. Although baking soda may neutralize the stomach acids, it causes what is called a “rebound effect,” in which the body reacts to the baking soda by secreting even more stomach acids.
The homeopathic alternative to treating infants’ colic and children’s digestive problems is an individually chosen homeopathic medicine. Chamomilla is one of the common medicines for colic when the infant has the typically hyperirritable state that is normally associated with this medicine, as described earlier. Pulsatilla is another common medicine for colic, but the infants for whom it is prescribed are generally very affectionate and desirous of attention and sympathy; although they may be irritable from the pain they experience, they are still basically friendly. Some of the other commonly used homeopathic medicines for colicky infants are Arsenicum, Nux vomica, Natrum sulphuricum, Bryonia, Magnesia phosphorica, Colocynthis, Lycopodium, and Sulphur. There are numerous other homeopathic medicines (too many to list here) that are occasionally given to colicky infants.
Some people theorize that the reason for colic is that the infant is allergic to milk or to some other food. The homeopathic view of food allergies is basically that the food is not “the problem.” Rather, it is the individual’s underlying state of health. The disease process produces poor assimilation and utilization of the food, which then ultimately creates symptoms. Homeopaths have found that the homeopathic medicines are effective in reestablishing health and thereby reducing food allergies.
Homeopathic medicines have wide applications for pediatric complaints. Since conventional medications, taken singlularly or in combination with other drugs, have known and unknown complications in infants and children, it is generally worthwhile to seek safe, effective alternatives to pediatric problems first. Homeopathic medicines may not only help to improve the health of infants and children, but will probably also help them to become healthy adults.
In addition to the various individual homeopathic medicines, there are numerous homeopathic formulas for many common pediatric ailments that are readily available in health food stores and select pharmacies.